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Ferry service threatened by dropping water levels

Ferry service threatened by dropping water levels
By KEVIN BOWDEN
Staff Reporter
Another casualty has emerged from the low water level of the Missis-sippi River in southwest Kentucky.
Tammi Hutcheson re-ported to The Messenger Tuesday she will likely have to shut down the Dorena-Hickman Ferry by Monday.
The low water level on the Mississippi River is expected to shut down the Hickman, Ky., harbor by Friday. The riverport is suffering from a buildup of silt from spring flooding and a lack of federal funding to dredge the harbor.
Now, the Mississippi River’s low water level is about to shut down the ferry.
Mrs. Hutcheson is the executive director of the Mississippi River Port Authority, which manages the Dorena-Hickman Ferry.
She said she received a call Tuesday from Terry Roncali notifying her the river level at Cairo, Ill., is expected to drop to 12.9 feet by Sunday morning. At that level, the Dorena-Hickman ferry would not be able to navigate across the river, according to Mrs. Hutcheson.
Roncali manages the Hickman harbor for WEPFR Marine and notified Mrs. Hutcheson Tuesday about the predicted water level at the Cairo gauge.
“We think we’re going to be able to run through the weekend, but we’re not sure,” Mrs. Hutcheson told The Messenger.
There has been a ferry service across the Missis-sippi River from southeast Missouri to southwest Kentucky since the 1800s, according to Mrs. Hutcheson. In recent years, the ferry’s business has really picked up.
Mrs. Hutcheson said the ferry can accommodate up to 12 vehicles and regularly handles 18-wheelers, farm equipment, commuter traffic and tourist traffic.
The ferry is also transporting a growing number of motorcycles across the river, according to Mrs. Hutcheson, who said the ferry handles an average of 75 vehicles a day.
Today’s weather forecast calls for a probability of rain, but it will reportedly take a significant amount of rain farther north to elevate the river’s water level. Also, areas of the river need to be dredged to eliminate the silt buildup and open up the river channel for barge traffic.
According to a 2008 economic impact study of the Dorena-Hickman Ferry, the ferry “adds to the economic climate of this three state region by supporting limited direct employment and investment in the region.” The report identifies the ferry’s impact on regional tourism, employment and savings to travelers in terms of time and costs.
“This analysis demonstrates that the ferry operation adds approximately $349,494 directly to the local economy through tolls, fees and subsidies,” according to the 2008 report. “In 2007, the ferry moved over 18,000 vehicles with over 38,000 passengers.”
“This ferry operation also supports regional employment by providing more immediate access to jobs. This analysis estimates that the ferry provides access to employment generating $162,369,792 in salaries per year.”
The report also estimated the ferry saved motorists more than $340,000 in 2008.
“Based on average visitor expenditure for these three states (Tennessee, Missouri and Kentucky) of $84.07 per day and an average stay of approximately 2.6 days, this ferry operation plays a role in generating over $2,370,084 tourism dollars in this region,” the report states.
Until the water level reaches a navigable level on the Mississippi River, it appears transportation on the “Muddy Mississippi” is grinding to a halt.
Published in The Messenger 10.12.11

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